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Star Trek – For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Well, at least it has a great title.

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is one of the great Star Trek titles, at once lyrical and pretension, poetic and absurd. It is a turn of phrase that nobody would ever use in conversation, but which so beautifully evokes the science-fiction concept that drives the episode. It is certainly a lot more memorable and compelling than the stock “The [noun]” naming convention employed all too readily in television production. (The Changeling, The EmpathThe SurvivorThe Battle, The Enemy, The Forsaken. And so on.)

Shockingly bad.

Shockingly bad.

Indeed, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky seems to be the gold-standard of Star Trek naming. Earlier episodes like The Conscience of the King or Dagger of the Mind had quoted from Shakespeare, while Is There in Truth No Beauty? alluded to the work of Keats. However, it seemed like every subsequent Star Trek title would stand in the shadow of this third season instalment. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would make a valiant effort with titles like … Nor the Battle to the Strong or Let He Who Is Without Sin…

Unfortunately, the title is very much best thing about For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Outside of that, the episode is a rather generic and conventional stew of old Star Trek standards thrown together with a bunch of half-hearted soap opera clichés. It is all rather hollow.

"I will love you forever. Or until the end of the episode. Whichever is sooner."

“I will love you forever. Or until the end of the episode. Whichever is sooner.”

In many ways, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky belongs to the rich tradition of Star Trek stories about Kirk saving a primitive and superstitious people from the whims of a malfunctioning and psychotic computer. It was a template that worked reasonably well with The Return of the Archons, but already felt tired by the time that The Apple put David Soul in orange body paint. Couple with stories about Kirk saving primitive societies from Klingon interference in Friday’s Child and A Private Little War, it all becomes a bit much.

In many ways, Star Trek represents an extension of liberal sixties American culture into the future, drawing on a rich variety of influences from classic westerns to seafaring adventure to John F. Kennedy’s “new frontier.” In many ways, Kirk and his crew represent the values and ideals of sixties America, which renders stories like this deeply problematic in the context of the Cold War and the Vietnam War. For all that the popular narrative of Star Trek insists that the show is pacifist and utopian, episodes like The Omega Glory were pointedly pro-Vietnam.

Heated discussion.

Heated discussion.

There are certainly shades of that pro-Vietnam sentiment to stories like The Apple and For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, most notably in the believe that secular western liberal democracy is an ideal which should be encouraged through direct unilateral intervention. Some historians would argue that the Vietnam War was itself a gigantic social experiment. As Walter A. McDougal argues in Promised Land, Crusader State:

Even if the United States gave up its pretense that the Saigon regime was a sovereign and equal ally, what logic suggested that a pre-industrial, Asian, intensely proud people wanted to follow American political and economic models? Unfortunately, in George Ball’s words, “the young movers and shakers of the Kennedy Administration had, if anything, a surfeit of theories regarding the economic development of the Third World.” A Pentagon consultant remembers the mood of the times as “one of change, of ferment, of self-confidence–of ‘knowing’ what had to be done and of unquestioning ‘can do.’ It would all lead to a better world. It was the time of Camelot.” There was actually a Project Camelot, inspired by [Robert] McNamara’s belief that defeating wars of national liberation “will require a comprehensive effort involving political, economic, and ideological measures as well as military.” An icy Hooverian technocrat (minus the pacifism), McNamara put more than a hundred sociologists, ethnologists, and psychologists to work “modeling” South Vietnamese society and seeking data sufficient “to describe it quantitatively and simulate its behavior on a computer.” Of course, the project was based on circular reasoning–how could one judge which data were relevant unless one already had a model in mind? Nevertheless, McNamara ordered the scholars to take their model “to the field” within eight months so he could compute the progress made in pacification and revolutionary development. If World War I was the chemists’ war, and World War II the physicists’ war, McNamara said, then the struggle for the Third World “might well have to be considered the social scientists’ war.”

Yes. Vietnam was the first war in which the United States dispatched its military forces overseas not for the purpose of winning but just to buy time for the war to be won by civilian social programs.

If the Cold War was a war to be fought on ideological grounds, then Vietnam was really just a front in that war. The goal was to ensure the spread of American values and democracy, a feat of social engineering tied up in military interventionism. Even after the horrifying images of the Tet Offensive had begun to turn the American public against the Vietnam War, Star Trek seemed to cling to that ideal.

"Don't mind us, the two outsiders loitering suspiciously outside your most holy of sites."

“Don’t mind us, the two outsiders loitering suspiciously outside your most holy of sites.”

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is a story in which Kirk and his crew encounter an isolated and withdrawn society governed by religion and superstition. Indeed, the episode actually has a pretty great metaphor for that close-minded isolationism. The Fabrini live without a completely closed-off ecosystem, a world that is the inside of an asteroid. The sky is painted. The fundamental truths which they take for granted are demonstrably false, but they are enforced by a brutal totalitarian regime using “the Instrument of Obedience.”

Fabrini society is very consciously structured as an anti-religious allegory, like the use of Vaal and the Eden imagery in The Apple. After all, the Fabrini’s fundamental misunderstanding about their universe consciously mirrors those old Christian claims about the Earth existing at the literal centre of the universe and the sun orbiting the Earth. This is to say nothing of the book of sacred commandments, or the power of the Oracle to strike down those who stand in opposition to it. For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is not particularly subtle.

Temple of doom.

Temple of doom.

Of course, there are obvious issues with this set up. Most obviously, it is never entirely clear why the Fabrini believe that they are living on a planet rather than traveling through space inside a hollow asteroid. “Why should the truth be kept from us?” Natira demands when confronted by the truth. “Why should the creators keep us in darkness?” It is a legitimate question. Of course, it is possible that the Fabrini originally knew and knowledge decayed over generations, but it raises the question of why the Fabrini would design the craft to encourage such a possibility.

More than that, there is something quite distasteful in the manner in which Kirk chooses to interfere with Fabrini society. Once he decides to tell the Fabrini that they are in a giant asteroid, the course of action seems clear; take Natira back to the Enterprise and demonstrate to her the reality of her situation. At least engage with local leadership. Instead, Kirk takes it upon himself to directly interfere with the Oracle. “Fools,” Natrina complains. “You think we are children? You think you can do as you please, commit whatever offense amuses you?” She has a point.

"And you will write a glowing Trip Advisor review!"

“And you will write a glowing Trip Advisor review!”

As Aaron John Gulyas outlines in The Paranormal and the Paranoid, the episode plays out like a fantasy of the American foreign policy of the sixties:

Like other science fiction stories featuring societies that have “lost” knowledge of their universe’s reality, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky presents the move from nonrational to rational in a clearly positive manner. The Fabrini are liberated from the negative, dictatorial effects of the oracle’s control. Their society, however, does not collapse as one might expect to realistically happen when a civilisation’s “god” is revealed to be a malfunctioning computer. Rather, this new knowledge of the nonspiritual, materialist, and scientific reality is a boon. Natira, as a representative of the priestly class, continues to rule and guide her people but from a positively presented position of enlightenment, rationality and benevolence.

There are no consequences to Kirk’s actions, no meditation on what Kirk has actually taken it upon himself to do.

Queen of Yonada.

Queen of Yonada.

There is something uncomfortably paternalistic in Kirk’s attitude towards the Fabrini, a sense that Kirk knows better and that the Fabrini would do well to listen to him. Naturally, the fact that Fabrini society is dominated by a psychopathic computer than considers itself a god helps to vindicate Kirk’s interference, but there a sense that For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky feels that Kirk’s attitudes are entirely justified. There is something unsettling in how willing Kirk is to upend Fabrini culture without even consulting with them.

This was already problematic in the context of the late sixties, as public perception of the Vietnam War was changing American attitudes towards such unilateral foreign intervention. However, it would become even more striking in the years and decades that followed. For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is precisely the kind of Star Trek episode that Deep Space Nine was criticising with Crossover, an episode that was very much focused on the unintended consequences of attempting to impose one’s values on other cultures.

The good book.

The good book.

Indeed, the religious elements of For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky feel particularly uncomfortable in the context of the twenty-first century, following the direct military intervention of the United States in Middle Eastern countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. Those conflicts were presented (at least in part by people like Tony Blair) as a triumph for western liberal democracy. Given that these conflicts contributed to a state of growing political instability and mounting conflict in the region, that view is problematic.

Writer Christopher L. Bennett would revisit For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky from a twenty-first century perspective with the publication of Ex Machina in January 2005. Set in the aftermath of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the novel found the crew of the Enterprise returning to Yonada and dealing with the consequences of their earlier decision. It is a fantastic read, one which in many ways reads as a thoughtful and extended criticism of the episode in question.

"Don't worry. I know what I'm doing."

“Don’t worry. I know what I’m doing.”

Still, there are some interesting ideas to be found in For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, even if the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Most obviously, the idea of a generational ship is a fascinating science-fiction concept for a Star Trek episode. The idea of a ship traveling through space so slowly that it would be crewed by the great-grandchildren of its original pilots is not a novel idea. Indeed, it can be traced back to the dawn of twentieth century, long before mankind ever reached outer space.

Robert Goddard first proposed the idea of an interstellar ark in The Last Migration in 1918, although he suggested that the passengers might simply sleep on their extended journey. Ten years later, Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky proposed that the ship might come to be manned by the descendants of the original crew in The Future of Earth and Mankind. Despite arguments about how (un)workable such a generational ship might be, it was a concept that captured the imagination. It became a frequent subject of science-fiction literature.

The old man had a bit of a Jimmy Hendrix moment.

The old man had a bit of a Jimmy Hendrix moment.

It is easy to understand the appeal of such a concept. There is a romance to the idea of a human endeavour so vast and fantastic that it takes literally generations of single-minded pursuit to accomplish. Indeed, Robert Goddard was inspired by classic science-fiction, writing fan letters to H.G. Wells:

In 1898, I read your War of the Worlds. I was sixteen years old, and the new viewpoints of scientific applications, as well as the compelling realism of the thing, made a deep impression. The spell was complete about a year afterward, and I decided that what might conservatively be called “high altitude research”, was the most fascinating problem in existence … “aiming at the stars”, both literally and figuratively, is a problem to occupy generations, so that no matter how much progress on makes, there is always the thrill of just beginning.

It offers a sense of majesty and scale to space exploration, imbuing its passengers with a purpose much larger than themselves. It requires complete and uncompromising devotion to the idea of a future, rather than the needs of the present.

"He's dead, Jim. Sorry, I always wanted to say that."

“He’s dead, Jim. Sorry, I always wanted to say that.”

It also provides a sharp contrast to many of the underlying assumptions of Star Trek. The demands of episodic television adventuring mean that the ship has to be able to have exciting adventures every week. The might be drama in a show about a ship drifting through the cosmos at one tenth of light speed towards an inhabited planet, but not only likely to sustain the hundreds of seasons that it would take to actually get there. So Star Trek cheats, featuring warp drive that allows Kirk and his crew to zip through the cosmos from one adventure to the next.

Bringing the Enterprise into contact with a generational ship provides an interesting storytelling opportunity, because it allows Kirk to meet a bunch of space travelers with a very different experience of life on the frontier. More than that, it might provide an opportunity to contrast the high adventure of Kirk’s lifestyle with a more grounded and mundane existence. There are shades of this to be found in the story thread focusing on McCoy, who seems to consider taking a slower pace of life with the Fabrini. Sadly it is underdeveloped.

"If your Fabrini supercomputer has developed a god complex and is trying to murder you, please turn to section F231."

“If your Fabrini supercomputer has developed a god complex and is trying to murder you, please turn to section F231.”

That said, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky was not the first time that Star Trek had considered telling a story set on a generational ship. David Gerrold had pitched a similar idea before selling The Trouble with Tribbles. The pitch was called Tomorrow Was Yesterday, and he recalled the experience in his book on the writing of The Trouble with Tribbles:

Tomorrow Was Yesterday dealt with the discovery by the Enterprise of a giant “universe” or “generation” ship – that is, a slower-than-light spaceship that would take generations to reach its destination because they lacked the power to traverse the vast distances between stars any faster. The Voyager was a colony ship that had been launched from Earth hundreds of years previously, but only now were Federation ships catching up to it, the Enterprise being the first.

Gerrold would revisit the idea years later, recycling it for the novel The Galactic Whirlpool. It is in many ways a much more satisfying execution of the concept than anything to be found in For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. The most notable aspect of For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is how thoroughly the episode wastes a potentially interesting concept.

For all the world's a sound stage.

For all the world’s a sound stage.

Speaking of wasted (but potentially interesting) concepts, there is a very interesting performative aspect to For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. After all, the world inhabited by the Fabrini is an illusion, an elaborate deception built on the inside of a hollowed-out asteroid. The sky is literally painted on. The title is referenced verbatim in the script, as a crazy old man talks about the experience of climbing atop a mountain and facing the unreality of the world as it was presented to him.

In other words, the world inhabited by the Fabrini is nothing more than an elaborate set. It is fake and phony. Of course, it looks no different than any other planet set to appear on Star Trek. As far as Kirk and Spock must be concerned, the “surface” of Yonada must look as legitimate as the surface of Minara II or Beta XII-A. However, to the audience, there is something very self-aware about all this. The interior of Yonada is effectively a television set standing in for a television set, something fake that is signified as fake.

Takin' the tube.

Takin’ the tube.

In some ways, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky plays into the themes of performance that run through the third season, a recurring sense that the characters on the show are merely actors and that the unreality of Star Trek threatens to collapse at any given moment. Repeatedly over the course of third season, the cast are forced into outside roles like actors, and confronted with elaborate sets that are self-evidently fake. It is almost as if the third season is teasing the audience about its nature as a television show.

Kirk and his away team were forced to act out the shootout at the O.K. Corral in Spectre of the Gun. Kirk found himself playing the role of “Kirok” in The Paradise Syndrome. Kirk taught the Elaan of Dohlmann how to act like royalty in Elaan of Troyius. Kirk played crazy (and dead and then a Romulan) in The Enterprise Incident. The entire crew would find themselves playing out war games with the Klingons in Day of the Dove. The crew would be treated as puppets in Plato’s Stepchildren. It is almost as if the cast of Star Trek were composed of actors.

"It's like trying to get Siri to book me a nice Italian restaurant."

“It’s like trying to get Siri to book me a nice Italian restaurant.”

For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky never quite capitalises on this performative subtext in the same way that Spectre of the Gun or The Enterprise Incident did. The script only occasionally shows hints of stagey rhetorical flourish, as demonstrated with the title line or Natrina’s purple prose description of her feelings towards McCoy. “Until I saw you, there was nothing in my heart,” Natrina states. “It sustained my life, but nothing more.” Katherine Woodville hams it up, as if worried she’ll have to fight Shatner to chew on the scenery.

Which provides a nice segue to the episode’s romantic subplot. For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky opens with McCoy discovering that he has been afflicted by Xenopolycythemia, a rare blood disease that leaves him with only a year to live. The script never bothers to explain how he contracted it, or where it came from. Its existence is just taken for granted, a vehicle for McCoy to dramatically confess his illness to Kirk at the end of the teaser. This provides an impetus for the rest of the episode.

McCoy confronts his own mortality.

McCoy confronts his own mortality.

McCoy just happens to contract a fatal disease at the same time that the Enterprise encounters Yonada. McCoy just happens to be part of the away time, which includes no security personnel or engineers. McCoy just happens to meet Natrina during this mission, who is instantly smitten with him despite her distrust of outsiders. McCoy just happens to fall head-over-heels in love with her immediately, being willing to give up his career to spend his final days with here. Spock just happens to find a cure for Xenopolycythemia in the Fabrini databanks.

This is all hideously contrived. It feels very much like soap opera plotting, a series of “and then…” plot developments desperately strung together to generate some cheap stakes and easy drama. The clear goal is get the audience to emotionally invest in McCoy’s arc, to buy into the romance with Natrina and believe that McCoy might possibly retire to spend his last days with Natrina. However, no television viewer would ever have bought into all that. Even if this were a way to write DeForest Kelley out of the show, it would be hideously ham-fisted.

"Really? McCoy? I mean, I'm right here."

“Really? McCoy? I mean, I’m right here.”

This type of storytelling is very much par for the course with the third season. Kirk falls head-over-heels in Elaan of Troyius. Kirk gets married and starts a family in The Paradise Syndrome. Even Scotty gets a love interest in The Lights of Zetar. In an interview with Starlog, producer Fred Freiberger argued that he tried to steer the third season away from science-fiction and towards more conventional drama in an effort to court new viewers:

The problem I was facing was how to broaden the viewer base. . .do a science-fiction show but get enough additional viewers to keep the show on the air. I decided to do what I would hope was a broad canvas of shows, but I tried to make them more dramatic and to do stories that had a more conventional storyline within the science-fiction frame. Now, if some science-fiction fans didn’t like it because it went too dramatic. . .[I’m] guilty. That was deliberate.

This emphasis on romance and love affairs was likely part of Freiberger’s efforts to provide a more “grounded” and “dramatic” take on Star Trek, moving away from the high-concept science-fiction stuff towards more conventional storytelling. After all, Freiberger did not have a lot of science-fiction experience under his belt when he took over Star Trek. It made sense that he might try to focus the show on subjects of interest to him.

The romance is rather painful.

The romance is rather painful.

The issue is not that For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is a love story. There are plenty of great Star Trek episodes that are effectively love stories. The City on the Edge of Forever is probably the best example of a Star Trek story driven by romance. The problem is that For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is a terrible love story. It is hackneyed and lazy and clumsy and contrived, in a way that makes no sense for either the characters involved of the story being told.

McCoy and Natrina seem to go from strangers to life partners in the space of an hour. “I wish you to stay here on Yonada as my mate,” Natrina states during their first conversation. McCoy has a bit of logic. “But we’re strangers to each other,” he reflects. Natrina spouts some unconvincing nonsense about how that is “the nature of men and women”, but ultimately implores, “Let the thought rest in your heart, McCoy.” She does not even bother to call him Leonard. It is a cringy and creepy scene.

"I'm happy to spend the rest of my life with you. As long as the rest of my life is a finite amount of time."

“I’m happy to spend the rest of my life with you. As long as the rest of my life is a finite amount of time.”

To be fair, the plot might make some vague sense from McCoy’s perspective. After all, the character has just been confronted by his own mortality. That tends to throw a character for a loop. Even allowing for that, the episode never earns the idea that McCoy might actually be dying and that he might want to spend his last year with Natrina. More than that, for a qualified doctor, McCoy seems pretty blasé about the threat that Yonada poses to the “three billion and seven hundred twenty four million” on Daran Five.

However, the plot makes no sense from the perspective of Natrina. Why is Natrina interested in McCoy at all? She is rightfully suspicious of Kirk and Spock, given their later antics. However, she seems to trust McCoy immediately, with little by way of motivation an explanation. In a way, it feels like the third season’s gender politics are at work again. It is hard to believe that a male priest would be so distracted and disarmed by Uhura, whereas McCoy renders Natrina just as helpless as Spock rendered the Romulan Commander in The Enterprise Incident.

"The prognosis for our relationship is not good."

“The prognosis for our relationship is not good.”

There is very much a sense that Natrina is a disposable love interest for McCoy, just like Miramanee had been for Kirk in The Paradise Syndrome. As such, it seems a minor miracle that Natrina is still alive by the time that the closing credits roll. To be fair, McCoy and Natrina do at least talk about their relationship before McCoy continues on his way, even if the two seem to be talking past one another. However, the episode is put together so as to heavily imply that McCoy still makes a point to leave the system without even bothering to tell her that he has been cured.

“Doctor McCoy, the Fabrini descendants are scheduled to debark on their promised planet in approximately three hundred and ninety days,” Kirk advises his friend. “I think that we could manage to be in that vicinity at that time, if you wanted to thank the Fabrini personally.” Or he could beam over and have that conversation before the Enterprise warps on its way. Given the realities of sixties television production, Natrina was never going to be anything more than a single episode love interest, but it still feels horribly shallow.

"Think we should tell your wife that you're not going to die?" "Nah. She'll figure it out."

“Think we should tell your wife that you’re not going to die?”
“Nah. She’ll figure it out.”

There is a clumsiness to the love affair that makes The Paradise Syndrome seem positively well-considered. At least the earlier episode had a (terribly executed) time skip to help ease things along. In contrast, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky seems to unfold over the course of a few hours. McCoy barely has the Instrument of Obedience inserted before he finds the book in the Oracle Room, tells Kirk about it, gets tortured by the Instrument, and has Spock remove it. That is not an arc. It is a sequence of things that happen.

It is a shame that For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky wastes this opportunity. Leonard McCoy is a relatively under-developed lead character, at least as compared to Kirk and Spock. It might be interesting to see an episode that delved into McCoy’s history like Journey to Babel introduced Spock’s family. Of course, Dorothy Fontana was working on a similar idea for the script that would become The Way to Eden, but that would ultimately never make it to the screen.

"Well, at least it has a happier ending than Kirk's last marriage."

“Well, at least it has a happier ending than Kirk’s last marriage.”

As it stands, a lot of McCoy’s history and character is left unspoken over the course of the original Star Trek show, although DeForest Kelley manages to imply a lot in his performance. After all, the Writer’s Guide outlined an interesting back story that never made it to screen:

Doctor McCoy is 45 years of age, was married once … something of a mystery that ended unhappily in a divorce. He has a daughter, “Joanna”, who is 20 and in training as a nurse somewhere. McCoy has provided for her, hears from her as often as inter-galactic mail permits, but his duty aboard the starship keeps them apart. We will suspect that it was the bitterness of this marriage and divorce which turned McCoy to the Space Service.

This back story would later be explicitly incorporated in JJ Abrams’ Star Trek reboot. However, it fits quite comfortably with Kelley’s performance. Indeed, this background information would very much enrich the romantic melodrama of For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, were it developed.

Leonard McCoy: heartbreaker and smooth operator.

Leonard McCoy: heartbreaker and smooth operator.

There is a strong sense of repetition to For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, a sense that the episode is largely recycled from familiar plot elements and images. Kirk’s efforts to save the inhabitants of Yonada from a belligerent supercomputer recall both The Return of the Archons and The Apple. The female leader seduced by the male crew member evokes The Enterprise Incident. The marriage involving a lead character that has no bearing on the rest of the show feels like an element from The Paradise Syndrome.

There is also a strong sense that the episode itself has been heavily recycled. Yonada itself is simply stock footage repurposed from the last episode in which the crew encountered an asteroid hurdling towards an inhabited planet, The Paradise Syndrome. There is even repetition inside the episode itself. Kirk enters the bridge twice from the turbolift, the same footage playing at the start of the teaser and after the opening credits. Stock footage of Chekov staring at the view screen is looped.

"Spock, have we seen that asteroid before?"

“Spock, have we seen that asteroid before?”

In some ways, this demonstrates just how tired the production team were at this point in the run. None of these elements suggest a growing and thriving show, instead suggesting that Star Trek might be on its last legs. However, they also suggest something about the nature of the third season as a whole. In many ways, the third season of Star Trek feels like an attempt to reduce the series down to its most iconic elements, to turn Star Trek into a set of recognisable iconography and themes rather than just a television show.

This is best reflected in the fact that so much of the show’s core iconography comes from the third season, despite the fact that the third season has fewer classic episodes. Stories like The Empath and Day of the Dove lay the ground work for the franchise’s utopianism; The Enterprise Incident suggests that the politics of the Star Trek universe extend beyond the Federation; Is There in Truth No Beauty? introduces the IDIC; Elaan of Troyius marks the first appearance of the iconic Klingon cruiser.

"Yes, Spock, I'm SURE I've seen that asteroid before."

“Yes, Spock, I’m SURE I’ve seen that asteroid before.”

If a viewer were trying to reduce Star Trek down to a set of iconic images and signifiers, all of those ingredients would be vitally important. For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is nowhere near as memorable as any of those, but it does reinforce certain tropes and beats through repetition, as if outlining what a stock Star Trek story looks like. The third season was always going to be the last season of Star Trek, and so there is something fortuitous about all this.

This final year feels like it is packaging the concept of Star Trek for later resurrection. It is providing a blueprint of what Star Trek is, by reducing the series to its most archetypal and saturating itself with memorable images. Of course, none of this is intentional. The reason that so many third season episodes feel generic is because so many veteran staffers were gone. The reason that so many episodes take place on the Enterprise and rest on familiar elements is budgetary. Still, the third season feels like a collection of iconography being prepared for storage.

Fingers crossed for a swift resurrection.

Fingers crossed for a swift resurrection.

None of this makes For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky any better. The episode is packed with interesting ideas, starting with the title. However, For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky is just one giant missed opportunity.

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7 Responses

  1. “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine would make a valiant effort with titles like … Nor the Battle to the Strong or Let He Who Is Without Sin…” Don’t forget about what in my opinion is the most overblown DS9 title, “Wrongs Darker than Death or Night.”
    I really do think the original series can almost be seen as a perfect encapsulation of how Kennedy saw the world. Kennedy was a slightly progressive liberal when it came to domestic policies, but extremely conservative when it came to foreign policies. After all, he supported the Bay of Pigs, and was instrumental in increasing the buildup to Vietnam. He once said about war: “It’s like taking a drink. The effect wears off, and you have to take another.” That seems to perfectly summarize the viewpoint that the episode “A Private Little War” takes towards Vietnam.
    “[T]he idea of a generational ship is a fascinating science-fiction concept for a Star Trek episode.” Unfortunately, Star Trek: Voyager would also waste this concept with the absolutely disastrous “The Disease.”

    • That’s a great point about the Kennedy-era aesthetic of the show.

      I wonder if that explains the mythology around it as well. Kennedy tends to have a lingering cult of personality, particularly for the left. However, this results in a tendency to “gloss over” some of his shortcomings and the consequences of his presidency. I wonder if the original Star Trek is like that as well, with people tending to gloss over the show’s issues and shortcomings in order to build up the myth.

      • “Glossing Over” occurs not just for Kennedy, but famous figures in general seem to be consistently oversimplified. For example, Winston Churchill is always treated as a hero, and yet he was a pretty despicable human being. He authorized the use of mustard gas against the Iraqi people in the 1920s and supported the 1950s coup in Iran. I think the desire to remember only the good speaks to people’s desire for easy narratives, but it is something that really needs to change.

      • That’s a very fair point.

  2. One of the things that I found interesting about this episode was how bad DeForest Kelley was at playing “in love” with Natira. Admittedly, the script was poor, but Shatner and Nimoy both did much better jobs of pretending to be in love with the women that bad scripts gave to THEM to romance. Kelley looked as if he’d never SEEN a woman before and had no idea what to do with one. Given how good he can be at other things, I was really surprised at how bad Kelley was in the screen-romance department.

    Of course, Kelley played heavies most of the time before being cast on Star Trek, so maybe he didn’t have a lot of experience with it. But Leonard Nimoy also played heavies most of the time before being cast on Star Trek, and he did a much better job with Zarabeth than Kelley did with Natira.

    Evidently romancing the space babes is harder than it looks; I guess I should be giving Kirk more credit. 🙂

  3. P. S. — I loved the picture caption, “He’s dead, Jim. Sorry, I always wanted to say that.” 😉

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